Hitting the right note?

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced musician, there are occasions when your mind will play tricks on you and you think the note you have just read and played was correct… until someone else draws your attention to the fact that what you are playing is not exactly how the composer intended it to sound, nor is that what is actually written in the music score.

An Optician asks you to read aloud the letters on the chart and you say J instead of G even though you can see the G perfectly well. It seems like a brain slip up. What is it in our brains that we know what the correct thing to do is, but we do not do it anyway? A careless mistake? Human error?

To avoid practising the music using these incorrect notes to the point where it becomes difficult to correct, I recommend a few pointers when learning a new piece of music.

Ledger lines

Reading notes from the bottom up helps to identify chord clusters much better. Do it like this always, rather than mixing reading sometimes from top down. It keeps things clear. You wouldn’t read the end of a sentence first, after all.


Tricky key?

It actually saves me time when sight reading a new piece of music in a more challenging key to practise a few quick arpeggios and scales to warm my hands up so that I feel familiar with the where my hands should be comfortably sitting in this key. If in doubt, don’t guess if they are flats or sharps, especially in more complex pieces with accidentals throughout… Read or re-read the key signature! It is at the start of the music to help, not hinder! It is here for good reason.

Rather than practising the same repertoire all the time, try introducing a lot of new music, regularly. Sight reading is essential to any instrument. A common note-reading struggle is with ledger line notes or misreading notes which are in a piece of music in a key that is less familiar. Panic when you see F# major?

If finding time to practise is  a challenge in your busy day, experience has taught me that I have better success in improving by planning regular practise rather than leaving a ‘time to practise’ to fate- i.e. when all the other to-dos for the day have been completed. Little and often daily is better than a one-hour binge once or twice a week. It can help to maintain routine with practise as well, by scheduling the same practise time each day, whether it is straight after dinner or in the morning.

For younger pupils, 20 minutes a day is adequate. For adult beginners who want to see faster improvement, the more you put in, the more you will get out.

If you find yourself sighing/ using expletives/ feeling about to bash chord clusters on the piano/throw your music score out the window/pluck your violin strings violently…. Please stop! Walk away and return when you feel in the right frame of mind again. The instrument is not against you- its purpose is to be played with care and skill and it will reward you in time.

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